Did Jesus fully understand his divine origin?

Father John A. Kiley

Pious souls, Scripture scholars and dogmatic theologians have pondered through the ages exactly how much Jesus understood with his human mind that he was indeed a Divine person with a Divine nature. Did Jesus’ human mentality comprehend from birth that he was the second person of the blessed Trinity? Was Jesus the boy, the teenager or the man always aware that he was an eternal being of one substance with God the Father? Did Jesus’ Divine self-awareness grow over the years, or was he always cognizant of his exalted origin and lofty destiny.

Some devout believers have imagined Jesus as a child Deity, fashioning birds out of mud and then letting them fly around the neighborhood, or settling childhood arguments by striking his playmates mute, or confounding his local rabbi by Scriptural insights beyond his years. Modernist thinkers postpone any recognition by Jesus of his Divine personality and Divine nature until after the Resurrection. In their thought it is only the glorious Christ, released from any earthly limitations that could absorb the significance of being simultaneously Divine and human.

Although Jesus might not have been a child prodigy entertaining the neighbors with celestial tricks, there are indications in the Gospel accounts that Jesus had come to terms with his Divinity long before Easter Sunday. Perhaps Satan himself might be a surprise witness to Christ’s growing self-awareness. At the start of his public life, as we heard on the first Sunday of Lent, Jesus was led out into the desert by the Spirit to be tested by Satan. A careful reading of Satan’s triple proposals reveals that they begin, “If you are the Son of God…” An astute Satan has grasped Jesus’ growing self-awareness and is alarmed. Not an identity crisis, but a growing identity acceptance constituted the burden of Christ’s forty days in the Judean wilderness. The adult Jesus was coming to terms with exactly what it meant to be Divine in person and nature. This alarmed Satan who wanted to dull Jesus’ Divine consciousness. Happily, Satan’s wiles did not work and Jesus would continue to translate his Divine essence into human terms.

Jesus’ appreciation of his Divine origin is illustrated most clearly by his miracles and by his forgiveness of sin. Jesus always works miracles in his own name. He never prays to God the Father for help in working a miracle as a saint or healer would certainly do today. Recall Peter and John at the Temple gate who declare, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” Jesus need invoke no one other than himself. Jesus does occasionally pray before a miracle, but he makes it clear to his audience that his prayer is for their benefit, not for his empowerment. Jesus is fully confident that he can command the lame to walk, the blind to see, the mute to speak and the dead to come to life in his own right. Nor is Jesus hesitant to forgive sins – clearly a Divine prerogative! Jesus not only forgave the man born blind, the paralytic lowered through the roof, the woman who anointed his feet and the adulterous woman, but he also understood his own death to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin, “…so that sins may be forgiven.” Jesus was indeed God in action!

All of these musings and proposals confirming Christ’s appreciation of himself as Son of God, even in this life, make this coming Palm Sunday’s entry into Jerusalem all the more remarkable. Jesus had indeed humiliated the Scribes and Pharisees on several occasions. He had humbled the Sadducees as well. He had worked miracles that astounded thousands. He had mended souls and restored God’s grace to sinners. He had truly played God! And now on Palm Sunday, Jesus Christ, the miracle worker, the Messiah, the Son of God, parades into the capital city of Jerusalem, riding astride a mean donkey, protected from the street’s dust by travel worn clothes, hailed by rustic Galileans and Judean street urchins and fanned with palm branches freshly ripped from nearby trees.

This is the substance of comic opera! This is Gilbert and Sullivan! Jesus Christ had already proven himself by word and work to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Now this bit of farce on the streets of Jerusalem splendidly highlights his Divine self-confidence! Jesus had a good laugh at his own expense!